We’ve all known them. There are those who can’t seem to smile or have a positive thought. Anyone studying self-improvement has heard that it’s good to be positive, but what about others?
It’s true that we can‘t do much to change the behavior of others except possibly by example or underhanded manipulation. But manipulation is not what we’re going for here. Positive personality traits include things like building each other up, not saying anything if you can’t think of something nice, and basic integrity and moral principles.
I once worked with a person who didn’t have a kind word to say about anyone or anything. They didn’t like the workplace in particular, and there may have been resentments I knew nothing about. But it was depressing to listen to, and so I stopped eating lunch in the lunchroom with the whole office. This person drove others away too with the constant tirades.
In other situations I learned to counter a “Terrible weather today” with “It’s supposed to be sunny this weekend.” That strategy can go a long way. I have also started getting together with the positive people outside of work. Several women and I started going to movies on Sunday afternoons and having lunch together for birthdays. It was fun and we all were able to bond and be a positive influence on the others. But what if outside bonding isn’t possible or desired?
Sometimes we may be forced to work with those we don’t get along with. This is when your people skills can come forward, shine, and be a good example. I use several strategies now in cases like this.
- If someone is loud, swears in conversation, or has frequent negative chats with others near my desk, I get up and move to a different part of the office–wipe up the coffee area, pick up supplies, fetch the mail, or even go to lunch.
- I could also put on headphones for music or sound blocking, or start a needed phone conversation with a vendor or customer.
- Occasionally I let my phone go to voice mail when the person calling is someone that creates negative emotional reactions in me. I can call back later when I am prepared to deal with them.
- If I must work with those I don’t get along with, I try to make it happen in neutral territory or in my own office. If I feel in control or if I call the shots, I will be less likely to take on negative attitudes from the others.
- You could request an office with a door that closes. Make sure to give reasons that speak to your focus and concentration, or the confidentiality of your work, rather than to avoid others.
- If someone is truly abusive or stepping over the line with you at work, you always have the option to go to the Human Resources department or file a complaint with your supervisor. Follow the protocol or chain of command steps that exist in your personal situation or workplace. It is illegal for the management to ignore harassment in the office, sexual or otherwise.
There is also a lot to be said for creating goodwill wherever you go and whenever possible. There is an old saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” and it applies even in the workplace.
- Examine your own attitudes and make sure you are not perpetuating your negative reactions by habit. If you always say “no” to others’ requests, they are bound to be negative around you.
- Try to make time to help those who need help, even when that is not your job. I am the copier/printer expert in my area so I frequently teach others how to scan documents or replace the toner in the machine. The more helpful you are, the better you look to your managers.
- Go the extra mile and volunteer for committees or events and make the holiday party or summer picnic special with your participation. Anything you can do to improve your working conditions benefits everyone.
- Dress professionally and attractively and similarly decorate your workspace with uplifting items. As one example, I collect coffee mugs with inspiring messages and offer them to visitors or those who need to borrow them.
Sometimes you may need a more proactive strategy to avoid negative people and influences.
- Suggest and support workplace programs for education and self-improvement. This could include health improvement or skills enhancement. It will likely spill over into the general attitude and you will be viewed as a game-changer.
- It may be time for a transfer to a different department or even a different company.
- Exercise will help your overall mood and your health at the same time. Use your spare time to do a bit of extra walking in the sunshine in a nearby park on your lunch break.
- Try to get outside the office at lunch break and go to a library for an enriching change of pace.
Sometimes a company just needs someone looking at the culture from the outside and there are culture consultants who could come in and make suggestions to work with the employees on these issues and others they may uncover. Think how good you would feel if you suggested this and the idea was adopted by upper management. You could even be the company’s liaison between the consultant and your coworkers.
If you always try to build others up, it will improve your attitude as well as theirs. But at the end of the day you don’t want to constantly have to prop others up. Don’t let their problems become yours and don’t stoop to others’ level of negativity or respond in anger. Think about what your responsibility is at work. You were hired to do a job, and to protect yourself from distractions and obstacles should be supported by your manager. Just don’t be negative yourself when discussing the problems with the boss. Come up with some suggestions to improve the situation and the management may just agree with you. It can only do good things for your career.